Friday, March 30, 2007

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou a player?

Romeo's Ex by Lisa Fiedler
4Q 3P J/S

Who doesn't know the story of Romeo and Juliet? It's the classic tale of two (very) young teenagers in love. Many love it for its romance, many love to cry over its tragic ending. Amidst all that love, it's easy to forget what a player Romeo is. Just a few hours before he falls madly, passionately in love with Juliet, he's in despair because beautiful Rosaline won't give him the time of day.

That is where this book begins. We are told the story through (mostly) Rosaline's eyes, though Benvolio, Mercutio, Tybalt, and even Romeo all have their say as well. Rosaline is busily and happily engaged in learning the skills of healer, far too single-minded to spend any time paying attention to Romeo's vows of undying love. Basically, she hears his lovesick pinings, rolls her eyes, and says "As if!"

But Rosaline isn't all business. She enjoys a bit of mischief now and then, which is why she has coerced her younger cousin Juliet (who is far too well-behaved and docile as far as Rosaline is concerned) to sneak into the Montague's garden to steal some flowers. What a fine joke, to decorate the Capulet tables with perfect blossoms stolen from the soil of their sworn foe! Unfortunately, the plan backfires when Romeo comes along. While Juliet hides, Romeo professes his undying love for Rosaline. Juliet the eavesdropper finds it all hysterical and ridiculous, though as we all know, it's a different story when he uses the same lines on her just a few hours later.

Rosaline doesn't hate the Montagues, even though she is a Capulet. Indeed, she wishes they could all live together in peace. She is not alone in this. Benvolio, too, wishes the fighting would cease, as is revealed in another scene familiar from the play, though told from a different slant. Coming across the servants of the feuding families about to come to blows, he tries to stop the fight. Rosaline, watching from the sidelines, admires his bravery (as well as his looks!). But hot-headed Tybalt calls him out for a duel and an all-out brawl begins. Rosaline is appalled to notice a very young boy caught up in the fighting. Surely he will be hurt, possibly even killed, if someone doesn't get him out of harm's way. She plunges into the fray and grabs him. But though he is safe, she is not. She is stunned by a blow to the back of her head. As she falls, a pair of strong arms lifts her to safety. Before she completely loses consciousness, she feels a hand caress her brow and cheek.

Who saved her? Whose hand touched her with such tenderness and concern? Love plays cruel tricks. Though Benvolio saved her, it is Mercutio who takes the credit. And thus begins Rosaline's own tale of romantic confusion, for though she is drawn to Benvolio, let's face it, Mercutio is hot.

While Rosaline tries to sort out her own feelings, she also observes Romeo and Juliet fall in love. How could her docile, oh-so-proper cousin fall in love with such a fickle boy? Can she not see the danger? Rosaline can, and Benvolio can. They try to talk some sense into the two, but neither Romeo nor Juliet will listen. They can not prevent the tragedy we all know is coming.

And therein hangs the tale: on one side we have the heedless, impassioned, all-encompassing love of Romeo and Juliet, while on the other we have Rosaline, somehow drawn to both Mercutio and Benvolio, but unwilling to lose her head (or anything else) to either. Which is the tale of the truer love?


I don't want to give anything away here, but it just occurred to me that there's a similarity here between Romeo and Juliet and a certain pair of Lost lovers who met an untimely death. If you saw Lost this week (3/28/07), you'll know what I mean. ::shudder::

I love the way Fiedler is able to encompass Shakespeare's own words so naturally into her own work. It was also fun to catch the references to other Shakespeare works and characters. I'm sure I missed a few.

I also really enjoyed the sense of humor that is often on display, which is excellently balanced by Rosaline's sense of danger and impending tragedy.

Fiedler creates a good sense of place, and the voices of each character are distinct. She also does a fine job with the romances. I like the fact that Rosaline's heart-passion doesn't take precedence over her healing-passion. She is perhaps a little too modern-minded for her times, but I enjoyed her no-nonsense attitude towards romance. This isn't a girl who's going to fall for a player's seduction lines!

Favorite lines:

(Rosaline): He (Romeo) smothers me with his fondness! I marvel that his teeth have not rotted from the sugared sweetness of his vows.

The whole scene in the garden when Rosaline tries to explain to Romeo that she does not love him and intends to focus on medicine, not love, is laugh out loud funny, but here's a bit that I especially like for both the humor and the way it tells so much about the two characters:

(Romeo): "...I shall take the earthly course and ingest a fatal poison. Or stab myself repeatedly, so that you will be compelled to come near me, if only to stanch the bleeding...If illness is what you require of me, lady, then beginning here and now I will be sick."
(Rosaline): Truth be told, I've begun to feel a bit nauseated myself!

(Tybalt) "I was dressed perfectly for some cheerful violence..."

(Tybalt) "Swordplay, and arrogance, and honor, and heat, all combined to take a life. Men as boys on a summer's day, swinging danger in an arc, balancing hatred on a rapier's blade."

(Tybalt) "...My being is a part of the morning itself...I am a filament, a moment, a thought unthought. I am trembling nothingness...I mingle with the heat of the coming day. Sunrise is a smudge of apricot color along the horizon - O, for a tunic the color of daybreak! But what use have I for clothing now? For I am more like a morning than a man, I am a smudge of wisdom and sentiment against the sky."

Neither Tybalt nor Rosaline have much sympathy for Romeo and Juliet's impetuous behavior:

(Tybalt) "Mayhap she believes herself courageous for tempting Providence so boldy, but I see her action is more cowardly than brave. So childish is Juliet that the prospect of having to fight for what her heart desires frightens her enough to provoke a deed so dangerous."
(Rosaline) "'Love?' I roar, fists clenched. 'Bloody hell, that word should leave a blister on your tongue. Your recklessness, yours and Juliet's, was an affront to true devotion, your irreverence dishonored love. You met and admired one another and impiously called it love. 'Twas quick and bright and dangerous and magical. But you did not think. You settled for desire, but did not allow time for love."

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